Snakes and Symbols

 

And there the snake throws her enamelled skin. . .
(Shakespeare)

A few days ago, I watched Grimm’s fairy tale The White Snake. It made me think. Perhaps, because the film version was beautiful and went beyond the original narrative, adding new psychological levels. I must add that the subconscious plays a huge part in any fairy-tale, but the adaption made this point beautifully.

Why present snakes such a powerful image of the subconscious?

This is what I want to find out. One thing is clear: snakes appear in almost every religion from Old Norse to Christianity. A snake protects the Buddha from a storm, while he meditates. Lord Vishnu sleeps safely on the serpent Shesha, floating on the cosmic waters. In other words, the snake belongs to a universal language.

It is no wonder that Koronis killed his son Asclepius when one considers he learned to renew life from a snake. Therefore, snakes became a symbol of healing as well as for death and rebirth. Modern medicine has adopted the emblem, but maybe it is no wonder that Asclepius’ rod sometimes gets confused with the Caduceus. Both are powerful images, but Asclepius had only one snake entwining his rod. Is it the wit of our ancestors that let Hermes, the messenger of the gods, guide of the dead and protector of merchants, shepherds, gamblers, liars, and thieves carry the Caduceus? It seems to put medicine and commerce too close for comfort.

 

 

Also, it seems that both myths are entwined:  Asclepius killed a snake and observed its partner bringing it back to life, whereas the Greek mythology tells us that the Caduceus is part of Tiresias story. He found two snakes copulating and killed one of them. As a result, Tiresias was transformed into a woman and remained female until he killed the other, the male snake. Later his staff went to Hermes, along with its transformative powers.

The Ouroboros, the snake that eats itself is a symbol of eternity and continual renewal of life. It isn’t difficult to link rebirth and transformation to the fact that snakes shed their skins through sloughing. They renew themselves and that fascinates us to this day.

And I haven’t even touched upon the sexual issue. Snakes represent fertility and sexual desire. A powerful example of that is the Kundalini, a coiled serpent placed at the bottom of our spines. It raises and empowers pure desire.

 

The world’s great age begins anew,
The golden years return,
The earth doth like a snake renew
Her winter weeds outworn;
Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam,
Like wrecks of a dissolving dream

(Shelley)

 

© HMH, 2018

To the Fluffykins of this World

Don’t trust him!

Never trust him!

Never give him a chance!

He will elope. . .

Give him what he wants:

This little game of yours.

Give him that about virginity:

I’m waiting for the right man (read: Prince Charming)

Chain him in roses and silly cards

But never let him discover the iron ones

They are manifest

Solid steel.

Make funny noises and little squeaks

Make a world of marshmallows and sugar

All soft pink, light yellow and white,

Peach-colour and frills.

But keep a sledgehammer close:

If he ever wakes up, be quick!

Bang his head —

What does it matter to you

If he’s dead?

 

From London Verses

 

 

 

© HMH, 2014

About Critiques and Reviewers

 

Reviews can make or break an author. I believe that everybody, who publishes their writing, dreads their readers’ silence. No doubt, one can discuss whether a bad review is worse than total silence. My position is that a bad review can spark interest in a book (think Fifty Shades) just as much as a good one. If a reviewer is honest about his or her objections and expresses them well, this can be a great help to the author. One can advocate sparing the author in question a bad public experience through sending negative comments privately. Nowadays most authors make such channels available.

The problem in this would be the outcome. Are we as authors and people so degenerate that we can’t take a critical voice? The problem is real and often mars any exchange on the social media. Trolls have become a real menace, and the difference from the mythical troll is that they don’t turn to stone in the sunshine. How do we learn to conduct a civilized debate? As long as we can’t respect other people for what they are and what they do this will remain challenging. It is easy to say grow up, but it seems as if many individuals take pleasure in acting as five-year-olds.

I may digress here, but these are important questions.

To return to the issue: whether good or bad, a review has a function. It gives feedback to the author, but it also tells a reader what to expect. And that may be the most important part of commenting on the books we read.

To illustrate my thoughts, I’ve added some examples of reviews. They are all positive though: I don’t think that this is the right forum for criticising any aspiring or established authors.

 

Selected Reviews

 

Susan Findlay, Bombs and Breadcrumbs

In Bombs and Breadcrumbs, Susan Findley takes a step away from her usual comfort zone. It is a daring and important step, and she delivers an insightful take on the past (Sudetenland before and during the Nazi occupation) and the present (America and Germany, seen through the eyes of the Sudeten Germans’ descendants). She takes up racism, tolerance, and intolerance, asking important questions of how to deal with a traumatic past.

Andy Gallagher, Odd Bent Coppers

Odd Bent Coppers is a kaleidoscopic read. The mixture of artwork and text is thought-provoking, but Andy Gallagher’s use of assorted points of view sometimes obscures his message. In my opinion that may confuse the reader, especially as it can seem as if Gallagher preaches to the converted. Odd Bent Croppers is abundant with strong words and passion. From start to finish, it is the poetry that captures my imagination.

Amanda Langdale, Dangerous Snacks

Amanda Langdale’s take on education and politics is satirical and witty, with clear-cut characters. Belly laughs lead to amused chuckles, as we follow the hapless protagonists on the merry-go-round of board meetings, trips (real or drug-induced), extramarital affairs, and fights. Read it: you won’t regret it.

Paula Lofting, Sons of the Wolf

With ‘Sons of the Wolf’, Paula Lofting weaves a tapestry of a forgotten world. The absolute main-character is Wulfhere, a flawed individual but an earnest father. Around him, his family, his liege lord, serfs and warriors play out an epic tale spanning from battles to love entanglements, and from everyday life to family feuds. Highly recommended.

Sheena McLeod, Reign of the Marionettes

Reign of the Marionettes is an interesting read. The writing is strong and paints a colourful picture. The characters stand out and the dialogue is convincing. Sheena McLeod’s Handling of the subject puts the reader right into the past. Highly recommended.

Angelica Rust, Little Red is coming Home

Angelica rust delights her readers with an interesting take on the mythology of Little Red Riding Hood. The various aspects of the fairy-tale span from gruesome to ridiculous, romantic to scary. Rust takes her readers on an enchanting journey through traditional wisdom and contemporary amusement. Highly recommended.

Sebnem Sanders, Ripples on the Pond

Sebnem e Sanders opens a world of poetry in Ripples on the Pond. The variety of flash-fiction stories spans wide and gives insight into different cultures and fates. The Mediterranean feel never leaves the reader. Sander induces the reader to wide seascapes, olive groves, and intriguing encounters with distinct characters. Highly recommended as an escape from everyday drabness.

 

 

©HMH, 2018

Ireland

Green as Harp tones in the spring

Liquid and soft like water spilling over the rim

Grey cloud castles dissolve in mild vapour

Or shatter drops on the fields

Languor settles as pebbles rush and heave.

Sea and earth meet

As rainbows splitter the iridescence

Tasting salt and sweet but

Enveloping the hills in golden mist.

Fables and fairies thrive:

From tiny cobbler to howling banshee.

 

Stone crosses grow on mossy banks

Overlooking abandoned farms

Picturesque, dilapidated

But rich in history and hardships endured

True to destiny, defiant in despair

Never submitting to fate or distress

 

Glorious past and uncertain future

Affect the hearts and strengthen the minds.

Sound the Bodhrán and let the fiddle sing

Fleet feet will dance in the streets

 

From Ireland

 

 

© HMH, 2013

What makes a writer an author?

 

Somebody once said that it is good to be a hack. Why? Because hacks write. They have something to say and they say it. Someone also said Charles Dickens was a hack, writing his novels in weekly instalments. But people still love his books.

Is that all it takes? Yes and no.

As time doesn’t stay still, so trends and tastes change. It may have been easier to make a name for a writer in the past. Our advantage is that we build on the classics. Having that reference gives us inspiration and the feeling of standing on the shoulder of our predecessors. For me, there’s no doubt that reading the masters helps, just as it helps to read trashy novels. How come? There is a lesson in both: with the masters, one learns how to write, and with inferior writers one learns what not to do.

There are many other questions to deal with. But most of these are up to personal preference. There is nothing wrong with writing in third person omniscient, if the writing draws the reader into the world he or she create. So many believe that it is a faux pas to ‘tell’ the story instead of ‘showing’ what happens. That can be a helpful rule of thumb, but ‘showing’ doesn’t necessarily make a text more readable. And ‘telling’ may not bore the reader with endless descriptions. Writers have to struggle with ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ but, in the end, it doesn’t make much of a difference, as long as what they write is compelling. In other words, the only real issue is for any writer to find his or her unique voice. And even that is just a word.

What is a ‘voice’?

Composers’ voices are easy to recognize: they work with melody and rhythm, although there are modern composers that make their mark through distort both. For the listeners, it is ‘easier’ to distinguish the emotion in a melodious work, but they may learn to appreciate the weird and wonderful world of distortions. In other words, we may school our ears to value the distortions and disharmony of a less traditional work. At the bottom line, this is how we learn to distinguish between various composers. I believe that this goes for writing too. You learn to recognize the writing styles of assorted authors and get to know what to expect. That’s what you call the writer’s voice. Authors, too, work with rhythm and melody. They form sentences to create a mood. They may ‘cheat’ their readers into expecting a certain outcome, or place clues to make the reader anticipate an event. A rhythm of short sentences may build up suspense. But when an author knows his craft the work is instantly recognizable. The author appears through the words. Through the writing.

We can learn the craft, but that isn’t enough.

Authors make their themes matter. They write with all their passion, humanity, and insight. It doesn’t matter what they write about, if they care. They put everything they have and are into their writing. Subjects can range from soppy to epic, from dystopia to romance, when authors write what they write with conviction.

© HMH, 2018

Like an Old Melody

 

Harmonious chords float in the air

Blossoming like roses and

Enveloping the listener in perfume.

Memory plays wondrous tricks on

Easily coined words and melodious phrases.

Rich and soft, like terms of endearment

Half-forgotten but brought to light

To haunt and bewitch

Old or intrinsic ideas,

Never quite worn out but,

Put away like dried flowers in a well-loved book.

Charm and regret flow from the tune,

Which brings back the bitter-sweet past

But disappears, hardly leaving a trace.

What was must die, but still lives on

Yearning for renaissance but impotent,

Weakened by time and distance.

Sing the old songs and celebrate:

Our lives advance and grow.

Never look back without a smile but,

Let a hundred flowers bloom

 

From Aspects of Attraction

 

 

© HMH, 2014